EU Enlargement as a way of overcoming the fear of future
14.05.2009 / 15:49
Five years have passed to the day since May 1st 2004, when the Czech Republic, along with other nine countries, entered the European Union. The Czech Republic had waited eight years to gain full membership: It was 1996 when
Five years have passed to the day since May 1st 2004, when the Czech Republic, along with other nine countries, entered the European Union. The Czech Republichadwaited eight years to gain full membership: It was 1996 when former Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus handed over the official application for EU membership to the then Italian Presidency. However, Czechs had waited for the moment for much, much longer, at least since the demise of communism in Central Europe in 1989. From that moment, the “Return to Europe” slogan became a topic for heated debate, with the hopes that totalitarian regimes would have no future place in Europe.
Even with the eight-year hiatus until May 2004, no spontaneous wild celebrations were to be seen in the Czech Republic. It is not that most Czechs were oblivious to the importance of the day; quite the contrary: Czechs, as described by Commissioner Verheugen as „masters of scepticism“, welcomed the historical momentum quite merrily. There were no exorbitant celebrations, only an atmosphere of genuine relief. The sort of relief you feel having passed a major school exam, even when you are aware that the exam is not a final, it is still the beginning of a new path.
However, the political shake-ups and velvet revolutions of 1989 were different. A carnival atmosphere filled the streets as people openly celebrated the end of the stagnation, which presented itself as eternity. No fear existed for the future and certainty prevailed that the future would always be better than the past. Victorious euphoria filled the air. For decades, communist regimes promised the future as something bright but not immediately tangible. With the fall of communism, suddenly, a hope for the future existed here and now. However this future was not a free check. The Czech Republic, like any post-communist society, was forced to learn its hard lesson. This formed, at least, our sensitiveness by letting us get more sceptical, particularly towards any “new big social schemes”. Accession negotiations with the EU were an important training course in responsibility for modelling our future. Looking back, it was a course well chartered.
However, the enlargement process was not free from emotions. During the 1990s both members and non-members considered the European Union an exclusive club. Guaranteed entry into this club required thorough home preparation by all prospective candidates. The anticipation was electrifying: As entry into the EU drew nearer, great expectations and subtle nervousness were in juxtaposition. Candidate countries concentrated on domestic issues. The evaluation reports from Brussels were nothing short of a sacred script. An asymmetry ensued. While „Czech issues“ were debated within the EU context, we barely monitored the ongoing „European issues“. This dichotomy increased our anxiety and decreased expectation, but cessation of such emotions occurred post EU accession. Anxiety and expectations were replaced by relief. There was a price attached to the relief: With enlargement, the Union lost the feel of exclusivity, and in similarity to any normal family, became just daily routine. Appropriately, there is a Czech proverb that marriage transforms lovers into relatives.
Nonetheless, the demise of the EU’s exclusive club reputation did not mean that EU’s goals became less exclusive. The European Union continues to be the driving force on the European continent. The Czech Republic continues the momentum forward, in the first instance, as hosts to the current EU Presidency. More, now than ever it is evident that the world is changing. Not only should we grasp the substance of the changes, but we should also attempt to actively influence the changes. There is almost the entire 21st century ahead of us to make these. Marketing or spin will not subvert the attempt at real and necessary change. The substantial changes, looming on our horizon, may even be a fearful perspective. In the past, Europe was familiar with the term “culture of fear”. The best way to diminish fear is to act rather than just to talk. In this regard, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg used to quote, joking, the appeal of V. I. Lenin “to be concrete”.
One of the concrete tasks of the Czech EU Presidency is to assist strengthening of democratic institutions in East European countries. The Czech Presidency – in close collaboration notably with Poland and Sweden – will shortly launch the Eastern Partnership Project. Its aim is to advance transformation processes in bordering countries, which are located between the EU and Russia. The full driving force of the European Union offers little inclusion to these countries outside of its borders. Our eastern European neighbours deserve fair opportunity to prove stability of government and if proven, the issue of prospective EU membership could be viewed from a completely new angle. I am convinced that for both the eastern European countries and the EU members it would be a success. After all, current global events indicate tremendous opportunity for future grand-scale change, which may transform internally the EU familiar to us today. It is necessary to be prepared regardless of how contented we may be with the current state.
The Eastern Partnership initiative is not coincidental. It is being launched to coincide with the big-bang EU enlargement’s fifth anniversary. Without this milestone it is uncertain whether either the EU or the Czech Republic ever would have given the initiative the consideration and support it required. In the new member countries five years ago global economic prosperity bred consideration solely toward individual self needs and futures and incapacitated our acceptance to share responsibility for others situations. This period is now over. The credit belongs both to the new members and to the European Union, which in the times of the Irish Presidency welcomed the ten new members in to the club and thus helping to complete our liberation. Indeed, which people could understand this better than the liberal Irish? G. B. Shaw said it well: “Liberty means responsibility that is why most men dread it”. The foundations of all our achievements are made by perpetual motion forward with no dread, to the benefit of many.